The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. A version of this post appeared first on July 31, 2012, on my blog of the same name.
The necessity of asking for help with a simple, daily task because my head is throbbing and I feel weak and dizzy makes me angry. It makes me feel helpless. It makes me feel useless and worthless.
Unless I’m literally writhing in pain in bed, unable to get up or open my eyes or speak more than a few words at a time, I probably won’t ask for help. Luckily, I have a support team.
D.J. takes care of me without making me feel like I’m putting him out. If I can’t vacuum or buy groceries or pick up our weekly fresh produce subscription, he does it without complaining. I make sure to thank him for doing these tasks, because I am truly grateful for his support.
He also nudges me to take care of myself. It was at his insistence that I finally got an appointment at our local headache clinic. While I haven’t gotten relief yet, I have gotten hope, and a knowledgeable doctor who listens to me and is available by phone during office hours. D.J. also wants me to explore therapy options, and get my eyes checked (which I’m doing tomorrow–I’m kind of nervous about it!).
But perhaps more amazing is that despite the fact that D.J. often winds up doing more of the housework than I do, he makes me feel like I still take care of him, like he still needs me — just not to pick up groceries! This makes it much easier for me to relax and let go of things. He makes me feel valued and useful, and that is his greatest gift to me as his partner.
Although I may be slightly biased, I think Lexi is the most beautiful dog in the entire universe. She is also probably the brattiest. Even in her puppy pictures you can see the attitude in her eyes. She doesn’t like to be held, and the only time she likes to cuddle is at night or early in the morning before I get up. But when D.J. or I get sick, she stays with us constantly.
Corgis may not have the power to cure migraines, but they do have the power to cure sadness. There’s nothing like coming home to Lexi’s wagging nubbin and happy barks. She runs around me in circles, and if I wait too long to pet her, she jumps up on my legs and makes a noise at me.
She can sense when I’m feeling depressed or anxious and usually answers by bringing me a rope and asking me to play tug with her. I can’t remember a time when this hasn’t cheered me up considerably. She makes me laugh every day. (Lexi is now 13 and suffering from degenerative myelopathy, but she still makes me laugh every day.)
Jaina is an 18-month-old German shepherd dog. Unlike Lexi, she’s more or less oblivious to our moods. But since she’s just about the goofiest German shepherd I’ve ever met, that doesn’t matter much. Her favorite activities include licking D.J. for long periods of time (especially his feet and hands), chasing her bones underneath the furniture and staring pathetically at one of us until we fish them out for her so she can do it again, and chasing her squeaky ball at the dog park.
While Lexi does keep me active, with Jaina I have no choice but to go for long walks every day. GSDs need lots of exercise so they don’t become bored — and therefore destructive, especially when they’re puppies. Regular, low-key exercise keeps me healthy and staying healthy helps keep my migraines in check. Not to mention that Jaina is incredibly lovey and cuddly, and never says no to hugs or squishes.
Family and Friends
So many other people have supported and continue to support me in many ways. My mom is always willing to listen to me complain, and my dad and I often talk about our respective health woes. Friends have driven me to the emergency room, bought me groceries, made me tea, and so much more. Thank you.
This is Lexi. She’s a 13-year-old Pembroke Welsh Corgi, and she’s been with me since she was six weeks old. We’ve done everything together, from climb mountains in Maine to just hanging out at coffee shops in Pittsburgh.
People keep telling me I should euthanize her, and this is not okay.
About a year ago Lexi was diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy, a progressive spinal cord disease that works similarly to ALS in people. She no longer has any function of her hind legs, and her bladder and bowl control continue to weaken.
As you can imagine, this is a frustrating and upsetting prospect. Watching your best friend deteriorate from an active, mobile, sprightly 11 to being forced to drag herself around at 13 is not fun or pleasant in any way. These days I clean up a lot of messes, and have to wipe Lexi down frequently to avoid urine scald. She doesn’t always make it through the night without having to go outside anymore, and since D.J. is a lighter sleeper than I am, he’s usually the one to take her out at 2 a.m.
This, apparently, is enough of a reason to end a dog’s life. And in some cases, yes, it probably is. But if you are not there, if you do not see what goes on, if you’ve never even met my dog, it is not appropriate for you to suggest end of life decisions.
Her body is failing her, but she’s still my Lexi. She still chomps merrily on elk antlers, viciously attacks the Chuck-it, tries to sneakily eat All the Food, barks at everything that moves and many things that do not, and nudges me when she wants my attention. She can’t jump up on the couch anymore, but that’s okay because I can just put her up there until she wants to get down. She whines to let me know she needs to go out or to tell me she’s thirsty. Most importantly, she’s not in pain, at least not beyond the normal old lady aches.
I see her get frustrated often, but she knows that D.J. and I will be there to help her with whatever she needs. Storms and loud noises make her anxious now when they never used to, but calms down if I hold her or sit with her on the couch. We’ve all adapted to this new normal, as crappy as it may be. We’re under no delusions that Lexi will get better or that she at least won’t get worse. We know she will. We see it, day to day. It’s a gradual process, but its effects are undeniable and heartbreaking.
But what’s worse than dealing with Lexi’s DM is the constant comments about euthanizing her. “Why don’t you just…?” or “Well she’s lived a full life, maybe it’s time?” or “Have you ever thought about putting her out of her misery?”
Yes, watching her struggle is frustrating and upsetting. But she is not miserable. It’s true that DM has given us a count down: We’ve got roughly a year before she can no longer move her front legs. At that point we’ll start running into health complications like bed sores and pneumonia.
This isn’t a matter of convenience to me. This is my dog, my companion, my best friend. I’m not going to euthanize her because I have to clean pee up every day, or even twice a day. When her quality of life deteriorates, when she can no longer drag herself around or switch positions, when she is no longer happy a majority of the time–that’s when we’ll have to make that decision.
That knowledge, the inevitability of it, looms large in my mind every day. We know the end is coming. I reckon with it nightly as I’m drifting off to sleep. But the end isn’t here, not yet. This corgi still has joie de vivre, and I will treasure every day we have together from now until the day I do have to make that decision.
So please, stop telling me I should euthanize my dog. It’s not helpful. It’s exactly the opposite of helpful. D.J. and I are here with her, every day, making sure her final years are as happy and joyful as they can be. You aren’t. You don’t get to decide.